With summer drawing to a close, teens everywhere are scrambling to squeeze in last-minute road trips, final get-togethers, and as many pictures as they can fit into their memory cards before heading back to the hectic, stressful reality that is school.
But while summer is usually associated with sunny days on the lake and warm nights on the beach, it has become common for teens to continue their educations during their time off. Many high school students have taken advantage of their summer vacations to learn more than school has to offer, all while discovering a little more about who they really are and who they want to be.
Take John Gonzalez, a senior at Enochs High. This summer he has taken part in numerous activities such as the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Alabama, Boys State in Sacramento, a piano convention in Santa Clara, and a leadership camp at California State University, Sonoma, all while interning for State Sen. Lois Wolk in Stockton and at the Stockton Symphony Office.
"I've decided to take part in these opportunities to enable me to better see the world and the different people in it," he said. "I've really benefited from talking to people of different walks of life, participating in things outside of my personality, and experiencing self-reflection."
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Senior Sonam Virk of Enochs High School, who participated in the LeadAmerica Conference at the University of California at Berkeley and Girls State at McKenna College, echoed the sentiment.
"I am able to take so much back from the two programs, and I will hopefully be able to use what I learned in the future," she said. "Because of my great experience with LeadAmerica this year, I hope that next year I'll be able to attend the International Policy and Foreign Affairs Conference."
What sets these teens apart from others is their ability to strike a balance between academics, extra-curricular activities and leisure time. The two agree that advanced-placement summer assignments are still a priority, as is spending time with family and friends.
Are they pushing themselves too hard?
"I think today's students are busier than students of the past because there is tremendous pressure to build résumés for college," said Sara Mariano, leadership and English teacher at Enochs High School.
"But, I also think that a good balance of academics and extra-curriculars is good for most students," she said. "Students can benefit from extra-curriculars by exploring their interests, gaining knowledge about new and interesting subjects."
Programs such as those in which the two Enochs students took part are designed to have a lasting imprint on participants. Those who participate study career paths, and often get hands-on training in a specific field. Plus, they gain intangibles — teamwork, cooperation, community involvement — that they might not pick up in the classroom.
The best part of staying involved during the summer? The feeling of accomplishment.
Said John, "I always felt my vacations were wasted on TV, Internet, and sleep, but this year I feel I have at least made an impact on a few people, which is all you can truly ask for."
Jillian Ramos is a senior at Enochs High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom journalism program.